Why are poultry indoors and not allowed to roam outside?

Defra and the Devolved Administrations of Wales and Scotland introduced an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across England, Scotland and Wales on 6th December 2016 bringing in measures to protect UK poultry flocks from the risk of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N8 which is circulating in wild birds (particularly wild water fowl) across Europe. Northern Ireland imposed their Prevention Zone on 23rd December 2016.

The AIPZ mandated the compulsory housing (or clear separation from wild birds where this is not practical) of poultry (commercial, backyard and captive birds) for a period of 30 days but was extended to 28th February 2017 (17th March in Northern Ireland) as the risk level was deemed not to have reduced.

On 8th February, Defra announced proposals to put in place mandatory biosecurity measures across the whole of England with continued housing or range netting in higher-risk areas.  Higher-risk areas are those located near large coastal or inland bodies of water or where significant wild waterfowl congregate and/or in locations where outbreaks of AI have occurred since December 2016.

On 9th February, the Scottish Government, announced a further extension to the AI Prevention Zone until the end of April 2017.  Unlike England they are not defining any higher-risk areas but will allow birds out to range from the 28th February if enhanced biosecurity measures are put in place.

Both Defra and the Scottish Government will review the situation at the end of April 2017.

Since 16 December 2016, eight cases of H5N8 have been confirmed in GB in commercial turkeys, backyard flocks and breeding game birds.

This strain of bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

What is free range?

Terms such as extensive indoor (barn), free range, traditional free range are marketing terms defined in EU Regulation 543/2008.  Slow growing breeds of birds are reared for a longer period of time (typically 56 days for chicken) at a lower stocking density and have daytime access to open-air runs for a fixed period during their lives.

Producers can only use the special marketing terms if they meet the criteria laid down in the legislation.  Government officials carry out regular checks to ensure compliance.

UK free range poultry meat production, mainly chicken and also turkeys, ducks and geese at Christmas accounts for around 3.5% of total UK poultry meat production.

What is organic?

Organic poultry meat birds are reared according to strict conditions laid down in EU Regulation 889/2008 and have to have daily access to the outdoors for at least one third of their lives.  Birds are reared to a lower stocking density than free range and for a longer period of time.

The organic poultry meat market is small in comparison to other methods of production (indoor, free range) and BPC members produce around 4 million organic poultry, mainly chicken (less than 1% of total UK poultry meat produced).

Marketing Status of Free Range and Organic Poultry Meat

The EU legislation allows for free range poultry meat to be housed under a compulsory housing order to protect their health and welfare as well as public health whilst maintaining their free range marketing status.  The derogation is for a defined period of 12 weeks.

EU organic regulations allows for birds to be housed but there is no fixed period so organic poultry meat can be labelled ‘organic’ for as long as the birds are indoors so long as they have access to sufficient quantities of roughage and suitable material to meet their behavioural needs.

What happens when proposed new mandatory biosecurity measures under the AI Prevention Zone are introduced in England from 28th February 2017**?

The 12 week derogation to house birds ends on the 28th February 2017 and under the proposed new measures announced by Defra, poultry meat flocks will be allowed out to range as long producers put in place additional robust biosecurity measures to protect those birds from disease.  Once the birds have access to the outdoors again they can be marketed as free range as long as they meet the requirements laid down in the legislation and have access to the outdoors for half their lives.

Poultry meat farms that located in defined higher-risk areas may not be able to let their birds outside after the 28th February if they are unable to meet strict biosecurity measures including the netting of the whole of the range area (under EU legislation free ranging chickens must have a range area of 1m2 per chicken).

However, free range chickens that may have to be housed after the 28th February will continue to be marketed as free range until the 28th March 2017 because the time spent indoors under the cover of the grace period allowed in law counts as though they have had access to the range.

Organic poultry can still be labelled as organic as they are unaffected by the derogation.

**Note Welsh Governments has not yet announced their intentions. Northern Ireland is a few weeks behind GB and their current housing order will expire on 17th March 2017.